Spread picks for NFL Week 6
Another week of football is in the books, and through five weeks, we’re at 39-30-1 (56.5 percent) against the spread. Last week, we correctly picked both of our underdog winners, including calling the spread in the Detroit Lions’ game for the second straight week. This week, we have six games where my spread and the Vegas spread are different by two or more points. In such games so far this season, our picks have been 20-10 (66.7 percent).
For my pick of the Thursday Night Football game each week, as well as win probabilities for all games, follow me on Twitter (@EricEager82).
Bengals at Patriots (-9)
Prediction: Patriots win by 7
After beating up on the Browns last week, Tom Brady and the Patriots return home to face a Bengals team that, through five weeks, has just one fewer regular-season loss than a year ago. While Geno Atkins (84.0 overall grade) and Carlos Dunlap (86.7) continue to play excellent football up front, the Bengals have had a hard time this season replacing CB Leon Hall and S Reggie Nelson in the secondary. Additionally, after playing extremely well in the first three weeks, Vincent Rey (88.7 coverage grade) has played a combined 28 snaps the last two games with Vontaze Burfict’s return to the lineup. Starting linebackers Burfict, Rey Maualuga, and Karlos Dansby all have earned coverage grades below 55.0, so look for New England and their two tight ends to exploit the weaknesses in the NFL’s seventh-lowest graded coverage defense.
Ravens at Giants (-3)
Prediction: Giants win by 2
The Ravens have lost close games the last two weeks, while the Giants have mostly been handled during that time, and are currently on a three-game losing streak. Baltimore remains the fifth-highest graded team in the NFL, while New York is in the bottom half of the league. The Ravens’ strength has been their run defense, which is the highest-graded in the league and should neutralize the Giants’ ground attack. New York is largely one-dimensional to begin with—playing zero snaps with fewer than three wide receivers last week against Green Bay, and fewer than five such snaps against Minnesota. Eli Manning has been just the 27th-highest graded quarterback in the league this season, which I think becomes further exposed this week at home against the Ravens and their fourth-highest graded pass-coverage unit.
Panthers (-3) at Saints
Prediction: Saints win by 1
Each week this season, most assume the Panthers are going to break through and be the team they were a year ago. I don’t see it. The Saints are at home, fresh off a bye, and facing a team with just six days’ rest and a quarterback coming off of a head injury. New Orleans is just too deep in the passing game, with three receivers earning overall grades above 72.0, a quarterback ranked in the top 10 among passers, and an offensive line with the second-best pass-blocking efficiency in the league (87.8). Carolina released one of their starting corners about this time last week, and have zero remaining cornerbacks in the top 30 in yards per coverage snap this year. Look for this weakness to be exposed by the Saints at home.
Steelers (-7.5) at Dolphins
Prediction: Steelers win by 4
The Dolphins were probably the most disappointing team in the league last week, losing by multiple scores to the Titans at home. This week’s opponent is far more imposing, with running back Le’Veon Bell no doubt looking forward to running against a defense with only one linebacker owning an overall grade over 60.0, and whose defense as a whole has a cumulative grade that ranks 28th in the league. While Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been fourth in the league so far by averaging 8.17 yards per attempt, he has thrown the third-most interceptions in the league (seven), often making mistakes that defy the fact that he’s in his fifth NFL season. If he can mitigate those mistakes, there is production to be had against the Steelers’ cornerbacks, who, outside of William Gay, have struggled so far this season.
Jaguars at Bears (-2.5)
Prediction: Bears win by 3
Both of these teams are something of an enigma, playing competitively in almost every contest, but mostly coming up short when it matters most. Be that as it may, the Bears are getting effective play from backup Brian Hoyer, who currently leads all quarterbacks in PFF passer rating, is third in adjusted completion percentage, and has the third-best adjusted completion percentage under pressure. With former first-round pick Kevin White out, Cameron Meredith stepped in nicely, and currently sits at third among all wide receivers in yards per route run (2.91) so far this season. Look for the Bears to hold off the Jaguars at home this week.
49ers at Bills (-8)
Prediction: Bills win by 8
After losing two games in the season’s first 10 days, the Buffalo Bills have run off three games in a row. Running back LeSean McCoy is having something of a renaissance year, with a breakaway percentage of 46.6 ranking third among running backs, helping him to the seventh-overall grade at the position. The 49ers are turning back to Colin Kaepernick this week, making this game something of a wildcard. A return to his 2013 form would be a big boost to the San Francisco offense, while play commensurate with last year’s levels—when he was the lowest-graded quarterback in the league at times—could spell an even bigger disaster on top of what has been a pretty bad month for the red and gold.
Rams at Lions (-3.5)
Prediction: Rams by 2
We’ve had a decent amount of success picking Lions’ games the past two weeks, with last week’s performance being one of the season’s biggest surprises so far. The big matchup in this one is how Los Angeles’ re-vamped cover-2, missing its best secondary player in Trumaine Johnson, slows a Detroit passing game boasting one of the best free-agent pickups this offseason in Marvin Jones. Jones leads all receivers in quarterback rating on passes in his direction (133.4), is fourth in yards per route run 2.65, and has the third-most yards (208) on passes more than 20 yards in the air. The Rams still have Aaron Donald, however, and when Matthew Stafford has been pressured this season, his accuracy percentage has dropped by more than 10 percentage points. If the Rams can cash in on those pressures with sacks and/or turnovers, they should be able to keep this one close on the road.
Browns at Titans (-7)
Prediction: Titans win by 7
At first blush, this looks like a game between two perennially poor teams. However, the Titans have had many positives this season, with an offense among the top-10 in the league in terms of cumulative grade, and a defense that has also had its moments. The Titans currently have the best offensive line in the game, with all five of their starters possessing overall grades above 76.3, with left tackle Taylor Lewan boasting the best run-blocking grade (96.0) of all tackles by a mile, and allowing just five hurries all season in pass protection. If the Titans can continue to give RB DeMarco Murray (second-highest graded running back this season) holes to run through, his rebirth should continue against a Browns’ team ranking in the middle of the pack in run-defense grades so far this season.
Eagles (-2.5) at Washington
Prediction: Eagles win by 1
After being 0-2 a few weeks ago, Washington finds themselves just a game out of first place in the NFC East and a half game behind their opponent this week, Philadelphia. This resurgence has been in spite of the lackluster performance of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is currently our 27th-highest graded quarterback through five weeks. After a setback a week ago, look for the Eagles, who boast the league’s highest-graded quarterback (Carson Wentz), the second-highest graded edge defender (Brandon Graham), and the fourth-highest graded interior defender (Fletcher Cox), to rebound and give Washington trouble at home.
Chiefs at Raiders (Push)
Prediction: Raiders win by 7
We differ quite a bit from Vegas here, which makes sense. The Chiefs are coming off a bye (where Andy Reid generally excels), are facing a Raiders team that they’ve beaten five out of the last six times, and are starting to get Jamaal Charles back to his original form after playing him just 10 snaps against the Steelers last game. Those points considered, the Raiders have the highest-graded offense in the league, stacked with a legitimate MVP candidate in Derek Carr, one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a pair of receivers in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper capable of doing sizable damage against good secondaries. The Chiefs, after losing right cornerback Sean Smith in free agency to the Raiders, have far from a good secondary at this point. With Phillip Gaines out, D.J. White and Steven Nelson were roasted to the tune of 8-of-9 for 137 yards and three touchdowns against the Steelers. With Justin Houston still nursing a knee injury, the Chiefs have had trouble generating pressure to combat these deficiencies. I think these deficiencies get magnified against Oakland on the road.
Falcons at Seahawks (-6.5)
Prediction: Seahawks win by 1
Our model has underestimated Atlanta for weeks. That trend ends this week in Seattle. The Falcons figured out an elite Denver defense on the road last week by isolating their running backs on the Broncos’ linebackers in space. A similar tactic may not work this week, as all seven of Seattle’s starting linebackers and defensive backs in the nickel own overall grades above 70.0, with six above 80.0. Where the Falcons will have a real advantage is with their defense, which has the eighth-highest graded pass-rush in the league, versus a Seattle offensive line that ranks 22nd in pass-blocking efficiency. Couple that with the strong play of Desmond Trufant and rookie slot cornerback Brian Poole, and you have the recipe for a road cover in this one.
Cowboys at Packers (-4.5)
Prediction: Packers win by 6
One of the more underrated units so far this season has been the Green Bay defense, which owns the fifth-highest cumulative grade among the entire NFL—while only having played four games. Will this be the first group to crack the code of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot? A lot will depend on how Green Bay exploits the one favorable matchup they have among Dallas’ front five. Doug Free has struggled so far, yielding three sacks, four quarterback hits, and seven hurries on his way to just the 39th-highest pass-blocking efficiency among offensive tackles (he was 20th last year). He’s likely to face some of former first-round pick Nick Perry, who has really come on this season, posting a pass-rushing productivity that’s bested only by Von Miller among 3-4 outside linebackers.
Colts at Texans (-3)
Prediction: Texans win by 3
As tongue-in-cheek as this sounds, this is probably one of the battles for superiority in the AFC South this season. While the narrative on new Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler has been negative, he’s played his best games (and been the 17th-highest graded quarterback in the league) when they’ve been favored to win (and they’ve won each of those games). The Colts don’t have the coaching or the personnel on defense to make a fool of him the way the Patriots and Vikings did, possessing just one starter among the defensive line, linebackers, or cornerback levels with an overall grade above 57.1, and just one in the front-seven with a grade above 50.0. Look for Osweiler and the Texans’ offense to do enough to allow their defense (the 10th-highest graded unit in the league) to carry them to victory in this one.
Jets at Cardinals (-7.5)
Prediction: Cardinals win by 10
The Cardinals appear to be rebounding after a slow start, while the Jets look to be bursting at the seams. With an extra-long rest—and the return of Carson Palmer—look for Arizona to find its rhythm at home against a New York defense that is probably going to be without Darrelle Revis and David Harris, who are both nursing hamstring injuries. The combination of Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson should prove to be enough against a depleted New York defense that, even with Revis and Harris in the lineup, had the fourth-worst cumulative PFF grade in the league (and second-worst coverage grade) through the first five games. If the Cardinals start seeing what they’ve expected from wide receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown on the outside as well, this one could be lopsided.